Premier Christy Clark and her government were met with a mix of faint praise and harsh criticism after finally announcing their position on the construction and operation of heavy oil pipelines within British Columbia on Monday, July 23.
The announcement – the content of which is also included in a new government policy paper titled Requirements for British Columbia to Consider Support for Heavy Oil Pipelines – laid out the five conditions under which the B.C. government would lend their support to projects such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline to transport oil sands bitumen from Alberta to an export point in B.C.
"Our government is committed to economic development that is balanced with environmental protection," said Clark.
"In light of the ongoing environmental review by the Joint Review Panel (JRP) on the Enbridge pipeline project proposal, our government has identified and developed minimum requirements that must be met before we will consider support for any heavy oil pipeline projects in our province.”
Firstly, the government would require that the JRP approve of the project, signaling that the proposal has passed the environmental review process. The project would also have to feature “world-leading practices” in terms of prevention, response and recovery of marine and terrestrial oil spills.
Not only must Aboriginal and treaty rights be considered, as required by law, but First Nations must also be given the opportunity to benefit economically from the project.
Lastly, the government has stipulated that the province as a whole must share in the economic benefits of any heavy oil project in a manner that adequately reflects the potential hazards.
“We need to combine environmental safety with our fair share of fiscal and economic benefits,” said Clark.
The announcement came less than two weeks after Clark dealt out a bit of harsh criticism of her own, following the United States National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) report on the 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, which characterized the company as a bunch of “Keystone Kops” for their handling of the incident.
The clean-up of that spill is still ongoing.
"I think the company should be deeply embarrassed about what unfolded,” Clark told reporters in Kamloops on Wednesday, July 11.
"If they think they're going to operate like that in British Columbia, forget it,” she added.
Clark subsequently met with the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan on Thursday, July 19 to inform them that her government would be stating their position on Northern Gateway the following week.
She had a similar conversation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that day as well.
“I was giving them the heads up on what we’re going to be talking about next week, because I don’t want my colleagues, particularly our neighbours in Alberta and Saskatchewan, to be surprised,” Clark said on Friday, July 20.
“British Columbians want to have our environment protected and they want to know that we’re going to be looking out for their best interests when it comes to jobs and economic benefits,” she added.
“I understand there are other politicians in this country that would rather that I put those things aside. I’m not going to. That was not what I was elected to do.”
Following those comments, NDP environment critic Rob Fleming was anticipating a significant message from the government.
“I think British Columbians were expecting something more substantial given the hype that Christy Clark directed to it last week,” Fleming told Pipeline News North following the announcement.
“It was hinted by the Liberals that they would finally get off the fence and take a position standing up for British Columbia’s interests,” he continued. “And what we ended up getting was two of her ministers (Minister of Environment Terry Lake and Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Mary Polak) outlining the reasons… that B.C. could support this pipeline.”
Fleming felt the conditions were largely non-issues since the JRP assessment and consultation with First Nations are legal requirements. Additionally, Enbridge has been discussing the details of their marine safety initiatives for quite some time. They also promised $500 million of new upgrades – stronger steel and additional remote shut-off valves – in response to the NTSB report.
“British Columbia, under the Liberals, have already signed away their ability to do their own environmental assessment,” he added. “They agreed to that a long time ago.”
Eric Swanson, No Tankers Campaign Director for the Dogwood Initiative, had a similar reaction.
“I’m more confused than before the announcement,” Swanson said on July 24.
“There was a lot of speculation leading up to yesterday that there would be more clarity of position,” he continued. “The conditions that were announced include ones that are kind of no-brainers.
“Everybody will try their best to clean up spills. That’s a given – I hope. First Nations will be meaningfully consulted. Another given – I hope. Where I’m most uncertain is the topic of getting more money from Alberta or from the federal government.”
That condition concerning sharing the fiscal and economic benefits has been one of the hottest topics of discussion since the announcement.
“Revenue sharing between governments will require discussion between said governments,” suggested Travis Davies, a spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. “Much of the cost associated with spill prevention and recovery are borne by industry.”
Jamie Ellerton, executive director of ethicaloil.org, saw that condition as an attempt to “extort more money from the Alberta government” in exchange support for the pipeline.
“It’s borderline – one could say – un-Canadian,” added Ellerton.
“It’s unfortunate,” he continued. “I think Premier Clark could demonstrate some leadership and get behind the project ,and projects like it, in recognizing what a tremendous asset Canada’s oil and gas industry is to the country.”
Ellerton proceeded to call that requirement “less than desirable” and “highly political.”
His comments closely resembled the statement released by Alberta Premier Alison Redford on July 23.
“Every Canadian, no matter what province they call home, expects that energy development is done with a high degree of environmental safeguards,” said Redford.
“This is why a rigorous environmental review is underway by the National Energy Board (NEB). It is why the company involved has committed an additional $500 million for increased monitoring and safety measures. These efforts, combined with the fact that pipelines are still by far the safest means by which to transport oil, significantly mitigate the environmental risk and weaken the BC government’s argument for compensation based on potential risk.”
Redford continued to cite a recent report by the Senate’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee to reiterate what is thought to be the national importance of exporting oil and gas to new markets beyond the United States.
“It is essential for the economic benefit of Canada,” she said.
“Our confederation works as well as it does because of the free flow of goods and products through provinces and territories – including forest products, oil, liquefied natural gas, potash, uranium, grain and manufactured goods.”
Redford then said the New West Partnership between Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. was established in part with interprovincial trade in mind.
“Leadership is not about dividing Canadians and pitting one province against another, “ Redford concluded.
“Leadership is about working together. That’s when our country benefits – that’s when Canada leads. Through a Canadian Energy Strategy, the provinces and territories together will reach their full energy potential and contribute to increased prosperity and a higher standard of living for all Canadians.”
Swanson raised similar points surrounding economy and ecology.
“It’s not just the risk to the environment.,” he said. “It’s a risk to the economy, especially coastal economies in seafood and marine recreation.
“We were hoping the Clark government would use this opportunity to call a spade a spade and move on to different and better projects. More locally appropriate projects.”
“The salmon fishery is still important,” he continued. “The halibut fishery. Coast tourism is on the rise as the brand of the Great Bear Rainforest spreads around the world a little bit with National Geographic coverage and that kind of thing. There’s a local fish processing plant going up.”
Swanson noted that the Haisla First Nation have also been working with the natural gas industry to develop liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects.
“Our principle is get on the ground, talk to the communities, figure out what resource developments they want, that meet their local needs, and then help put those in,” he said. “You get jobs. You get revenue. And you get more sustainability.”
Despite the flaws of the announcement, as described by its critics, oil industry proponents do see a measure of hope.
“Good to have clarity from [the] B.C. government on expectations around projects like this,” said Davies.
“This is kind of the first real step by the B.C. government in demonstrating that they value the merits of projects and pipelines going through British Columbia to access the Pacific Coast,” added Ellerton. “And this is… a step in the right direction for developing those new markets.”
Still, Ellerton is disappointed with the rhetoric: “Obviously, this is highly political.”